Photo submitted by Craig Scott.
By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
The capital “U” in CommUnity Thanksgiving is not a typing error. It is a purposeful emphasis on unity among community members. The name is fitting for an event meant to bring people together around food.
CommUnity Thanksgiving started in 1998 as an idea with the first gathering at East Gadsden’s New Liberty Tabernacle of Praise church. Now it is an event hoping to serve 8,000 people, with a fully functioning board of directors and host of volunteers.
According to CommUnity Thanksgiving board vice president and Gadsden Public Library director Craig Scott, the focus is still the same as when the event started — to nourish people’s stomachs by filling them with a delicious holiday meal, their souls by having hearts of empathy and kindness, and their minds by filling them with unforgettable memories of service.
The theme this year is “a community coming together for faith, food and fellowship.”
This year’s event is Thursday, November 23 at The Venue at Coosa Landing located at 201 George Wallace Drive, in Gadsden.
There are three phases of CommUnity Thanksgiving. Phase one is delivering meals to people who are home-bound or otherwise unable to join in at The Venue and it will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. Phases two is having plates prepared for people to pick up and dine elsewhere, and it begins at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. Phase three is dinning in and it will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 2 p.m.
“By 8:30 in the morning we’re going to have plates ready to go,” Scott said. “We’ll deliver plates to people who have called us and signed up for a meal. Then, later in the day, people can pick up plates to-go. We would rather people dine-in and spend time with us, but we understand sometimes that just is not an option.”
CommUnity Thanksgiving board president Darlene Harcrow is hoping to have about 1,200 volunteers to help pull this gigantic event off without a hitch.
Volunteers are needed for two or three days before Thanksgiving to help prepare food and decorations and volunteers are also needed on Thanksgiving for serving meals, cleaning up and socializing with guests.
With over 900 volunteers in 2022 the organization served over 6,600 meals with a budget of $35,000. On Thanksgiving Day alone at The Venue at Coosa Landing 1,030 people gathered to share a Holiday meal. For those that could not dine-in, delivery accounted for 5,570 meals and 3,280 were to-go meal.
The budget this year is $40,000, with several local municipalities donating money to the cause.
“We appreciate anything and everything. We’ll take a dollar, 50 cents, anything you have to give, we will gladly accept,” Scott said. “We’ve done our pitch to county commission and city councils. We get donations from churches and from individuals, as well.”
The entire event runs solely on donations and volunteers, relying upon generous community members.
The menu is thoughtfully cooked by Dale Denham and includes ham, chicken and dressing, green beans, macaroni and cheese, rolls and cake.
Some may find it strange that a Thanksgiving meal will not feature turkey, but according to Scott, turkey is not a good option for serving in large quantities because of the price.
To help cut down on the price of preparation, Osborne Brothers has donated the use of one of their refrigeration trucks.
“The Venue has a ton of storage space and it still isn’t enough to store all of that food. The truck is a huge help and it works well. Almost too well. It keeps the food almost too cold,” Scott said.
Some of the food items are also donated from local suppliers. But according to Scott, the volunteers are really the backbone of the event.
According to the event’s website, commthanks.org, CommUnity Thanksgiving has reached “multigenerational status by becoming a family tradition for many.”
“As evident in the testament of many families, the annual event has taken a special place in people’s hearts and minds where each year they look forward to rekindling with the old and forging with the new to forge a path forward,” the website states.